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Eric Brewer is very similar to Cam Janssen – in one respect. Mention either name and you’ll get an instant polarisation of opinion. Fans will either leap to their defence or fall over themselves to get the first insults in. Eric Brewer is the Blues fans current whipping boy: he gets insulted on forums, booed when on the ice and yet, this is the man who is the Captain of the St Louis Blues. You would think there’d be a little more respect for the man who wears the “C” on his chest. So, time for a closer look at our enigmatic and quiet Captain and see if we can figure a few things out.
Eric Brewer’s NHL career started after being drafted 5th overall in 1997 by the New York Islanders – behind such luminaries as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo. He signed officially with the Islanders in 1998 – on an entry level contract with signing bonus. Brewer was very highly regarded and played 63 games in his rookie season – amassing eleven points, 32 penalty minutes and 63 shots. The following season saw Brewer demoted to the AHL after playing only three games for the Islanders. Brewer was with the Lowell Lock Monsters for two weeks until he was recalled to the Islanders. After a further 26 games with the Islanders – where he managed two assists – Brewer was demoted once again…this time for the remainder of the season. However, it was at this stage that the first of Brewer’s “injury jinxes” hit and he missed over two months with a sprained knee.
After being traded to the Edmonton Oilers in 2000, Brewer was injured in his first game and missed the next four games. However, he finished the season with the highest plus/minus rating (+15) on the team and 21 points. Eric Brewer soon established himself at Edmonton as a top defenseman, rarely missing games and amassing 25, 29 and 25 points over the next three seasons. He was named to the NHL All-Star Game, represented his country, Canada, at the Olympics and World Championships and participated in the Heritage Classic game.
Following the lockout, Brewer was traded to the Blues with Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch for Blues fan favourite, Chris Pronger. The trade occured because the Blues were trying to shed salary in order to sell the team and, the circumstances of Brewer’s arrival seem to have been the catalyst for his treatment from a certain section of fans ever since. Of course, Brewer didn’t exactly endear himself to fans when his first season with the Blues was basically decimated by injury. He played 18 games and then separated his shoulder in a game against the Blue Jackets. Brewer missed 10 games before returning to the lineup in December. In January, he dislocated his shoulder and was out for the rest of the season. Brewer played 32 games in his first season with the Blues – scoring 6 goals.
The next season started badly – although playing in every game, Brewer was a minus 11 by December. Speculation was rife as regards trades and every mistake he made on ice was highlighted and criticised. It can’t have been easy for him but Brewer kept his head down and continued to work his way through it. Things changed for him when the Blues brought in Andy Murray as Head Coach – with increased ice time and a coach who had faith in his abilities, Brewer soon became the backbone of the Blues defensive unit. Brewer was rewarded with a four year, $17million contract extension and finished out the season with 29 points.
Brewer’s third season with the Blues was slightly disappointing as far as points go – he managed 22 points in 77 games – with only one goal. However, he did have 21 assists including 4 assists in one game – against the Blue Jackets in February 2008. Interestingly, this career-high game happened just over a week after Eric Brewer was rewarded for his good play and leadership by being named Captain of the Blues.
The next season, however, things started to go wrong again. Brewer was limited to merely 28 games following an upper body injury which resulted in back surgery. Brewer’s back problems continued – with a very slow and frustrating period where the nerves just didn’t seem to be healing. Brewer wasn’t just unable to skate – at one point he was unable even to lift his children. He must have wondered at some stages whether his playing career was over. Eric Brewer is a battler though – he’s a fighter. He had a second surgery on his back in September 2009 and returned to the Blues lineup on on 29 October against the Phoenix Coyotes. John Davidson, President of the St Louis Blues, had this to say about Brewer’s return to the lineup:
“Here’s a guy that was worried about his career,” Davidson said. “He took the full time to rehab properly and now he’s in a position where he feels 100 percent. A lot of athletes retire because of back injuries. It’s not a fun issue. This injury could have been debilitating. But here it is the end of October and he’s ready to go. I’ve got to give him credit.”
Eric Brewer worked extremely hard to return to the Blues lineup and, to show how seriously he takes his responsibilities as Captain of the team, he continued to go on the road trips with the team even when there was no chance of him playing. Brewer came back and played high minutes from the start. So far this season, Eric Brewer has played 29 games – with 8 points (4 goals and 4 assists). Brewer’s return from his back injury seems to have co-incided with a more offensive attitude. He goes to the net more often than he did; makes good passes out of the zone and has a wicked shot from the point. It makes you wonder if the back problem was impeding his movement previously.
Of course, Brewer makes mistakes – but so does every player. Nobody is immune. Defensemen pay a higher price for their errors but Brewer pays a higher price than most due to the minutes he logs, the fact that he’s usually on ice against the opposing team’s top line and, of course, the fan reaction to his errors. This reaction is rather mystifying. If the Pronger trade is at the bottom of it then you have to say “let it go”. It was 2005 – stop making an issue out of it. Is it Brewer’s injury problems? Players get injured – it happens. Paul Kariya has missed substantial time yet doesn’t get the reaction Brewer does. Is it his occasional mistakes on the ice? If so, then it needs to be pointed out that Brewer works very hard to try and rectify any mistakes he’s made.
Eric Brewer is not Superman. He’s not Chris Pronger – he never claimed to be. Eric Brewer IS a very good defenseman with good leadership abilities. He’s become more vocal on the ice lately and shown a nice turn in offensive ability that I hope becomes more developed. As his confidence has grown this season, he’s also more physical – fighting Steve Ott of the Dallas Stars and not hesitating to lay out some bonecrunching hits. Eric Brewer IS the Captain of the Blues – and he takes it very seriously:
“I’ve always felt comfortable putting out what needs to be put out. Not trying to overcook it. Just know that things have to be done and things need to be said. If I feel that it’s my place to say it, I’ll say it.”
With his fight back from injury and dedication to the team and his position as Captain, why not Eric Brewer as nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy?
“O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;”